Ottawa — Major non-residential projects and record levels of housing starts combined to drive construction activity in British Columbia to new highs in 2019. The province’s construction and maintenance industry labour market has already been demanding unprecedented numbers of skilled workers and will continue to demand more — 11,700 by 2021 — according to the latest labour market outlook released today by BuildForce Canada.
Based on the number of currently tracked projects, construction demands will remain exceptionally high for the next couple of years and peak in the latter half of 2021. However, even as demand moderates somewhat over the scenario period, demand levels are expected to remain well above 2019 levels. When coupled with the anticipated retirement of baby boomers from the labour force, the industry will be challenged to keep pace with recruitment, training, and its labour force development needs throughout the decade.
BuildForce Canada’s 2020–2029 Construction and Maintenance Looking Forward provincial forecast report indicates that the BC construction and maintenance industry will be driven primarily by non-residential projects. The residential sector will also remain strong, as moderate declines in new housing construction should be more than offset by growing renovation and maintenance demands.
“Unemployment in the BC construction industry remains at historically low levels, below 4%,” says Bill Ferreira, Executive Director of BuildForce Canada. “While the industry will need to focus on long-term recruitment and skills development strategies, worker mobility will be critical to meeting the province’s anticipated construction needs, particularly over the short term.”
Non-residential demand is being driven by several major overlapping projects, including ongoing work at Site C, the LNG Canada export terminal, the related TC Energy Coastal GasLink pipeline, and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Major public infrastructure projects include the Pattullo Bridge Replacement, several transit projects, and ongoing expansion work at the Vancouver International Airport.
These projects will combine to increase employment demand in the non-residential sector by 10,300 skilled workers by 2021. Although non-residential employment will moderate throughout the decade, employment in the sector will be 6,700 workers higher than current levels by 2029.
Employment related to residential renovations and maintenance is projected to grow by 21,600 workers across the scenario period. While growth will be slightly dampened by lower overall demand for new housing, residential employment should rise by 8,300 workers (+7%) over the decade, with the strongest gains seen between 2025 and 2027.
As a whole, construction employment in the province should be 14,900 workers higher by 2029 than employment levels today. During this period, industry retirements will affect labour markets across the entire province, with about 44,200 workers expected to retire over the next 10 years. Based on historical trends, the industry can expect to draw an estimated 37,800 first-time local new entrants aged 30 and younger into the provincial labour force.
As a sub-region of the provincial construction market, the Lower Mainland accounts for approximately 62% of the industry’s overall employment, or 119,500 of the 192,600 workers employed in the province. Of these 119,500 workers, approximately 64% work in the residential sector, with the remaining 36% split between industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) building construction, the maintenance sector, and engineering construction.
Between 2020 and 2029, Lower Mainland demand for both residential and non-residential construction is expected to grow, though non-residential demands, driven primarily by public-sector investments in the region’s infrastructure, should grow at a slightly higher rate. Key near-term projects include the Pattullo Bridge Replacement, the Vancouver International Airport expansion, pipeline projects, St. Paul’s hospital, the Millennium Line (Broadway), the Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority container expansion program. Nearly 7,500 additional non-residential workers will likely be required to meet these regional demands by 2021, with most of the increase concentrated in 2020.
Given the industry’s current record low unemployment rate, a short-term reliance on out-of-province workers may be necessary to prevent project delays. Longer term, the industry must plan for the replacement of more than 25,300 workers expected to retire by 2029. Although the industry is expected to recruit up to 22,900 first-time local new entrants aged 30 and younger during this period, a recruitment gap is expected to emerge. When added to the anticipated demand growth for workers in the region, the industry in the Lower Mainland will need to recruit nearly 17,500 workers from other provinces, other industries, or from outside the country to keep pace with currently known regional construction demands.
The development of skilled tradespersons in the construction industry takes years, and often requires participation in a provincial apprenticeship program. Between 2013 and 2019, more than 54,470 apprentices registered in the province’s 20 largest construction programs, with 19,300 completions reported during that period. Based on current apprenticeship registration and completion trends, several trades may be at risk of not keeping pace with retirement levels that could potentially lead to an undersupply of certified journeypersons in some trades by 2029. Boilermakers, carpenters, glaziers, heavy equipment operators, industrial electricians, lathers and metal fabricators, painters, and welders may be at higher risk. Although apprentices alone cannot meet the significant near-term demand requirements for journeypersons, an ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will remain necessary to avoid potential future skills shortages in the industry.
Building a sustainable labour force will also require the construction and maintenance industry to increase recruitment from groups traditionally underrepresented in the current construction labour force, including women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians.
In 2019, approximately 36,300 women were employed in British Columbia’s construction industry, of which 34% worked directly on construction projects. Of the 192,500 tradespeople employed in the province’s construction and maintenance industry, women made up only 6.4%. Similarly, Indigenous people also represented a small percentage of the construction labour force, accounting for little more than 5.7%, of which 82% worked directly on construction projects. Increasing the participation rate of both these groups would go a long way to help the industry address its future labour force needs.
British Columbia’s construction workforce is made up of approximately 24% new Canadians. Over the coming decade, the province is expected to welcome an average of 50,000 newcomers every year, making the immigrant population an important future source of construction and maintenance industry labour force growth.
BuildForce Canada is a national industry-led organization that represents all sectors of Canada’s construction industry. Its mandate is to provide accurate and timely labour market data and analysis, as well as programs and initiatives to help manage labour force requirements and build the capacity and the capability of Canada’s construction and maintenance industry. Visit www.constructionforecasts.ca.
For further information, contact Bill Ferreira, Executive Director, BuildForce Canada, at email@example.com or 613-569-5552 ext. 222.
This report was produced with the support and input of a variety of provincial construction and maintenance industry stakeholders. For local industry reaction to this latest BuildForce Canada report, please contact:
British Columbia Building Trades
BC Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association
President and CEO
Canadian Home Builders’ Association – BC
(604) 432-7112 ext. 304
Membership Development & Government Relations
Mechanical Contractors Association of British Columbia
Northern Regional Construction Association
Southern Interior Construction Association
Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
Vancouver Regional Construction Association
Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.